Australia’s national offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA, has approved an application by oil and gas exploration services company PGS to conduct seismic surveys west of Kangaroo Island.
Conservationists warn the testing will impact on all marine life while the Australian tuna industry is worried the testing will alter the migratory pattern of southern bluefin tuna.
The approval came this week after NOPSEMA rejected the application multiple times over the past two years.
PGS says the proposed operational period for the Duntroon multi-client survey is September 1 to November 30, 2019 and possibly the same period in 2020. The activity will be as close as 90km west of Kangaroo Island.
Tuna industry concerned
The Australian tuna industry, currently active catching southern bluefin tuna south of Kangaroo Island, is concerned about the impact of seismic testing on the migratory patterns of tuna.
Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association spokesman Brian Jeffriess last week said the industry opposed seismic surveys in the Great Australian Bight.
Mr Jeffriess said there was evidence that tuna had moved away from areas where seismic testing had occurred and that the fish kept away on their migrations for their lifetimes.
“I didn’t believe it at first and it took a lot to convince me but now we do believe the migrations are altered,” Mr Jeffriess said.
Juvenile southern bluefin tuna moved back and forth huge distances across the Indian Ocean and there was a real danger that the fish could alter their movements away from the Bight if the seismic testing occurred when they were present.
The fishing industry had also come out against drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight, saying the risks of an oil spill were too great.
Wilderness Society warning
“Seismic testing is deadly for marine life and can impact all levels of the food chain from the very base, from killing zooplankton more than a kilometre away, to deafening whales,” said Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen. “It can kill scallops and impacts the immune systems of lobsters.
“Seismic testing can have a massive impact on whales and other marine life, with the deafening noise of sonic cannons being able to penetrate hundreds of kilometres into the seabed in thousands of metres of water and carrying on for months on end. It has led to hearing loss in whales, which sometimes can’t hear each other above the extreme noise, and strandings.
“The Great Australian Bight’s pristine waters are a haven for 36 species of whales and dolphins, including the world’s most important nursery for the endangered southern right whale as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. It’s also Australia’s most important sea lion nursery and supports seals, orcas, giant cuttlefish and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.
“The fishing industry and environmentalists have both called for a Senate inquiry into the impacts of seismic testing.
“It’s just not possible to undertake any oil and gas exploration activities in the rough, pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight without having unacceptable impacts on this special marine environment.
“BP showed that drilling in the deep, rough waters of the Great Australian Bight was unviable when it could not produce an acceptable drilling plan for Australia’s offshore oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA. BP’s decision showed that it’s too expensive to establish the costly risk-management and clean-up capacity needed to protect our communities from the enormous spill risks associated with drilling in the Bight. Chevron followed suit and pulled out a year after BP withdrew.
“Equinor, Santos, Murphy and Karoon will face the same massive costs and increasing community opposition that BP and Chevron experienced. Even with BP’s and Chevron’s withdrawal, community concern keeps growing.
“The Australian Government must now recognise that ultra-deepwater exploration drilling cannot be undertaken safely in the rough waters of the Great Australian Bight, or without presenting unacceptable risks to its unique marine environment.
“Equinor’s spill modelling showed a spill could reach the coasts of South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, threatening Australia’s coastal way of life and livelihoods.”
Greens oppose survey
Seismic testing is the first step to drilling in the Great Australian Bight and will have devastating outcomes for SA, the Greens say.
“This is a bad decision - bad for our marine life, bad for Kangaroo Island, and bad for SA. Seismic testing is the first step to drilling in the Bight, and an oil well 90km off Kangaroo Island is a disaster for South Australia,” Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“It seems as though after endless chances for the Norwegian company to finesse their plan, the regulator has buckled, doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry.
“PGS now has the green light to send seismic blasts into waters 90km from Kangaroo Island. This is an area sperm whales migrate through and where blue whales feed, sending constant blasts into the water for three months straight will devastate our marine life.
“The last time we had seismic blasting in the Great Australian Bight, whales beached themselves at Ardrossan and died. There is never a safe time for seismic blasting, and our environment will suffer for the regulator’s decision today.
“NOPSEMA has ignored the community, the fishing industry and Traditional Owners who want our Bight protected. 74 per cent of South Australians want to see the Bight protected, and thousands of people have joined The Greens’ campaign to nominate the Bight for World Heritage Protection
“The Greens are fighting tooth and nail alongside the South Australian community to stop big oil and gas drilling off the coast of Kangaroo Island and in the Bight. The impact on our tourism industry and the marine life off our coast would be devastating.”